For several months my sister and I and our spouses gently posed the idea to our 91 year-old father of getting one of those chairs that lifts, raising him to a standing level. His knees are degenerating and although the orthopedist had tried a couple different things, all that was left was knee replacement surgery. He was clear about not doing that, and we all agreed with that decision, but what could we do in light of that decision to at least make getting out of his comfortable chair, where he spends much of his day, easier and less painful?
He wasn't keen on the idea of the new chair, which wouldn't be as attractive as his large leather chair, but over time he decided to at least be introduced to THE CHAIR. My husband and I took him to the medical supply store where in a clear and non-pushy manner, the benefits of the chair were explained, and he experienced the possibilities first hand. Success--we bought the chair and after several weeks, it has finally found a home in Dad's den. He is thrilled. And so are we.
Following back surgery in 2013, Dad decided it was time to sell his house and move into a senior living facility. That was not an easy decision for him, and it, too, was prefaced by conversations we, as a family, gently had with him. Over time he came to the conclusion that moving was the best thing to do, and he settled into a beautiful spacious apartment he loves in a new facility.
In both of these examples, Dad made the decisions. We paved the way, sharing our concerns and offering suggestions and possibilities, which we let percolate until he became more comfortable with the proposed change. Once he made the decision we did everything we could to support him, and especially in the case of moving, we all put in lots of hours to make it happen. How grateful I am we didn't have to force these decisions or take away the decision from him.
I realize not everyone with older parents has the luxury of a parent who is capable of making good decisions for themselves, but in listening to conversations about what to do with Mom or Dad, I hear almost a sense of entitlement --that we are entitled to make the decisions now. All those years of raising us they made the decisions for us--where we would go to school and what kind of health care we received and where we lived, along with lots of input about our activities and our friends. Then there were the years when we made our own decisions, perhaps raising our own families, and our parents were living their own empty nest lives. Now, our parents are developing some dependency on us, and we feel some responsibility for the way they manage their lives. And the result can be conflict between parents and adult children with both parties digging in their heels. Not fun!
I recall a conversation I had with friends about our parents in which I said I hope that I will make things easy for my children when difficult decisions need to be made. One of my friends who is older than I am said, "Don't count on it. It won't be easy for you or for them."
I would like to think she is not right in her assessment. I would like to think I am more flexible, more able to respond to and make changes, but the truth is I haven't been faced with the kinds of change my Dad and others who have lived as long as he has have had to make. I still have my spouse by my side. My body is certainly not youthful, but I don't have ongoing health issues that color how I live and move. My vibrant circle of friends stimulate and bring joy to my life, and I am still able to use my gifts in productive ways. I know I have lived more days than I will live in the future, but the end of my days doesn't feel as close as it would to someone in their 90's. How do I really know how I will respond to the losses that are surely ahead of me?
One of my ongoing prayers is for an open heart --now and into the future; I pray I may respond to the losses and challenges of old age with grace, with humor and humility, and from the very best part of myself. Living a life that makes room for intentional spiritual practices I hope will help me continue to grow towards the person I was created to be, even or perhaps especially as I grow old, assuming I have that privilege.
In the meantime, I can learn from my father. Those of us who love him have been allowed to help him make life-enhancing decisions, and at the same time he has remained his own person. I can, also, listen to the challenges others are having with their parents and look into my own heart and ask how I need to live now in order to ease the challenges that will come.
One more thing: I'm sure you have heard people say that 60 is the new 40 or something similar--plug in the numbers of your choice. That has always bothered me. Do you mean I have to do 40 all over again? Well, recently, I heard someone speaking to a group about choices in retirement and he said, "60 is the new 60." Yes, yes, yes. I will be who I am the age that I am.
How have you faced the challenges of your parents aging? How are you facing your own aging? What are your spiritual practices that support you as you face change? I would love to know.